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As Mystics honor legends, their current stars lead the way to a key win

Mystics 71, Sun 63

The Mystics' Elena Delle Donne knocks the ball away from the Sun's Brionna Jones in the fourth quarter Sunday. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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At halftime of the Washington Mystics’ 71-63 win over the Connecticut Sun on Sunday at Entertainment and Sports Arena, the franchise continued the celebration of its 25th season by inducting the first class of the Washington Mystics Hall of Fame.

The inductees — Murriel Page, Vicky Bullett and Chamique Holdsclaw — played pivotal roles in the Mystics’ and the WNBA’s formative years. As their highlights played, each received a standing ovation.

Three Mystics players who one day may be remembered just as fondly bookended the ceremony with impressive performances. In the first half, it was Elena Delle Donne. The two-time WNBA MVP showed how good of a decision it was for her to rest instead of play in Thursday’s loss at the New York Liberty. She came out firing and scored 15 points before halftime as the Mystics grabbed a 43-27 lead.

“Each game is different, and I’m using it as practice as the season is so short,” said Delle Donne, whose playing time remains in flux as she comes back from back issues that wiped out her previous two seasons. “There are games I’ve been out of, so I’m just trying to get different looks and continue to attack. But we have such a great team, so at any moment someone else attacks and you never really have to force much.”

After the halftime ceremony concluded, it was clear Delle Donne wouldn’t be forcing anything — not even her own scoring. She didn’t register another point the rest of the way. She still made an impact, facilitating ball movement and contributing to a defensive effort that boosted the lead to 22 points. In her stead, two longtime Mystics (11-7) — Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud — delivered crucial second-half performances.

“It always feels good when you can give a show to the people that you’re glorifying tonight,” Atkins said. “Hoping that you show them that you don't take it lightly that you get to wear the uniform.”

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Washington’s backcourt controlled Connecticut throughout. By game’s end, the Sun (12-5) had 16 turnovers to the Mystics’ 10, several of which came late, when the game was decided.

Atkins cited how crucial communication was as she, Cloud and Alysha Clark held down the Sun’s high-volume scorers. Jonquel Jones led the Sun with 15 points, but nobody else cracked double digits. Two-time all-star Alyssa Thomas and 2021 all-star Courtney Williams were held to four and seven points, respectively.

Cloud’s tenacity and ability to guard nearly every position were critical, as was her ability to communicate on defense.

“Our communication was at a high level tonight,” Atkins said.

Atkins finished with 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting to go with six assists, four rebounds and two steals. Atkins said she slowed her mind in high-pressure situations, allowing her to find open teammates such as Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who had 10 points off the bench.

Cloud finished with eight points, five assists, four rebounds, three steals and a block — a showcase of her value as a two-way player.

“If you can play against a quality team and get more shots than them because you don’t turn it over and force them to take uncomfortable shots, then you have a great chance to win,” Coach Mike Thibault said.

Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ win:

Sue Bird will end her legendary WNBA career after this season

Slowed in the post

Shakira Austin and Myisha Hines-Allen played limited minutes. Austin got the start at center and played 16 minutes, scoring five points and scooping up eight rebounds. Hines-Allen played six minutes and had two points.

Coming into the game, both were questionable with a non-covid illness. During practice Saturday, Hines-Allen worked out in a limited capacity, but Austin was sent home.

Both are likely to travel with the Mystics for their road trip out west, which starts Tuesday at Los Angeles. They visit Seattle on Thursday and Las Vegas on Saturday.

Washington has played 18 games, tied for the most with the Indiana Fever. For the time being, the schedule isn’t letting up.

“It’s called ‘survive your schedule mode,’ and that’s kind of where we are,” Thibault said.

Delle Donne’s plans

Instead of traveling with the team to Los Angeles, Delle Donne will go straight to Seattle for Thursday’s matchup. She said she would use the extra time in Seattle to decompress and get game-ready.

“I’ll be with my trainer for those days,” she said. “He’s flying out with me. [I’ll] just be there early . . . get ready and continue my process in Seattle.”

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